Half of the world’s population may soon be in need of glasses. According to a troubling recent study, scientists are predicting that by 2050, close to five billion people will be nearsighted. While that might not sound like a big deal—glasses, after all, are no longer considered a fashion faux pas—the study also predicts an increase in severe myopia, which can lead to blindness.
According to EurekAlert!, a sevenfold increase in nearsightedness is predicted from 2000 to 2050, and up to one in 10 people around the globe may eventually be at risk for blindness. Scientists aren’t sure what is causing such extreme increases in nearsightedness, though they believe environmental factors are likely the culprit. “Environmental factors (nurture), principally lifestyle changes resulting from a combination of decreased time outdoors and increased near work activities, among other factors," are to blame, say the study’s authors.
Scientists are working on pinpointing the exact causes of, and possible cures for, myopia. So far, they know that light plays an important role in eye development, and that by depriving developing eyes of light, they can induce myopia in animals. WIRED explains that scientists have induced nearsightedness in young monkeys, chickens, and tree shrews by covering one of their eyes during infancy. They also found that they could reduce induced myopia in chickens by exposing them to bright light later on.
Unfortunately, exposure to bright light doesn’t reverse myopia in all cases, and the technique hasn't been tested on human subjects. In general, it’s difficult for scientists to pinpoint the exact causes of human myopia, and therefore its cure, since human testing usually isn’t possible. But studies have found a general link between spending time outdoors as a kid and reduced risk of myopia. Until a cure is found, scientists are recommending more frequent trips to the optometrist for risk assessments. It may also be a good idea to reduce screen time and make enjoying the great outdoors a higher priority.